Mothers and Sons: Rethinking Views

Article excerpt

PAM LARCADA and her 10-year-old son, Albert, share a passion: baseball. He pitches a mean fastball; she warms him up before games. Two years ago, Albert gave his mother a catcher's mitt for Mother's Day.

"We're very close," says Larcada, a Kendall, Fla., pediatrician. "We like to talk about a lot of things and do things together. He's very affectionate, very emotional."

Larcada believes her relationship with Albert is fairly typical. All little boys adore their mothers, don't they? "A mother," Larcada says with a laugh, "is the first woman a boy loves."

The complexities of the mother-and-son relationship have inspired a spate of recent books. They seek to analyze the changing image and role of men in society - and how these things are shaped by this most basic of human ties.

The authors, most of them mothers themselves, attack the long-held belief that a mom must push a boy away for him to be able to reach his full masculine maturity.

In fact, these authors contend, mothers often report strong, healthy ties to adolescent and adult sons, even as they complain about society's pressure to pull them apart.

"A boy often finds a mother in his corner," says Connecticut psychologist Ann F. Caron, author of "Strong Mothers, Strong Sons" (Henry Holt, $22.50). "Mother is usually the mediator, and he knows that. He sees her as a protector. While adolescent girls tend to be critical of their mothers, the adolescent boy is very protective of her."

But as boys reach puberty, the mother-son mutual adoration transforms into a more silent wariness. Mothers say that the closeness is disrupted as much by the bodily changes of adolescence as societal pressure to distance son from mother.

Consciousness about behaving "like a boy" heightens during those years in a process psychologists call gender intensification, and mother and son are flooded with both subtle and overt messages of the dangers of not being masculine enough, of becoming a "mama's boy."

"The pressure to not make him a sissy is enormous," says Linda Rennie Forcey, a professor of human development at Binghamton University in New York and author of "Mothers of Sons: Toward an Understanding of Responsibility" (Praeger, $10.95 paperback). "What is held as cultural truth is that the woman must push the boy out of the nest. It is clear at adolescence, but it starts as early as 3."

Much of the pressure comes from Dad. Yvonne Whitehead, a finance specialist for the city of Sunrise, Fla., says her husband, Benjamin, is always telling her she's being overprotective of their 12-year-old son, Spencer. She doesn't want him walking home alone; he thinks it's a good idea. She won't let Spencer mow the lawn when it's too hot; Benjamin says, "He's not going to melt!"

"My husband wants to toughen him up, make him what he would consider a man," she says. "I know I can't protect him from everything, but he's only 12. …